This opera cake is made with layers of almond sponge cake and topped with creamy espresso buttercream and decadent chocolate ganache. Your taste buds won’t know what hit them!
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Fair warning: this opera cake recipe is not that. It is neither quick, nor easy. And, OK, it’s next to impossible to get a clean slice because the chocolate ganache really, really wants to smear itself into the coffee buttercream even when you use your sharpest knife.
But what the opera cake lacks in simplicity, it more than makes up for in flavor. Almond sponge cake bathed in coffee, topped with creamy coffee buttercream and rich chocolate ganache make this a cake worthy of a celebration. Even if that celebration is just that you finally finished making your cake.
Sometimes I make a cake just so I can celebrate smearing on that last dab of frosting—I can’t be the only one who does that right?
Because this is a laborious cake, I opted to use an American buttercream rather than the traditional French buttercream, which is much more fussy.
Opera Cake step by step
Grind your slivered almonds along with some powdered sugar until the mixture looks like photo 1.
Next you’ll beat your egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is very thick and creamy. It should look like photo 2.
Mix some flavorings and the ground almonds into the egg yolk mixture. Then beat your egg whites until they’re stiff, like in photo 3.
Tips for whipping egg whites: Be sure your egg whites are at room temperature or they will not whip up properly. You’ll also want to be sure to use clean beaters and a clean mixing bowl or, again, they will not whip up properly. (Egg whites are extremely fussy.)
Bake your cake layers, then make your ganache and frosting. When you frost your cake layers, go all the way to the edge of the cake, but don’t spread the ganache all the way to the edge. (This prevents it from leaking into your final coat of frosting.). It will look like this:
Like I said, this cake is a time commitment. But oooohhhh is it ever worth it!
A few notes on the Opera Cake
Tools I used (and found essential) for this cake are this round pastry tip to make those frosting dollops on top and a small offset spatula. The offset spatula is crucial for control when you’re spreading the ganache NOT all the way to the edge.
Espresso powder, which you’ll use for the frosting, can be found at most grocery stores–however, the Safeway by my house doesn’t stock it. I always order mine from Amazon.
For tips on frosting your cake, see this death by chocolate cake post–I share my favorites tips and tools.
Next time you’re in the mood to spend a day in the kitchen, consider making this opera cake. Chocolate, coffee, and almonds—how could you possibly go wrong with those flavors?
And hey! If you make this opera cake–or any of my recipes–be sure to let me know what you think by leaving a comment and rating below. And post a pic on Insta too—tag @theitsybitsykitchen so I can see!
- 1 1/3 cups slivered almonds
- 2/3 cup powdered sugar
- 6 eggs separated and at room temperature*
- 1/3 cup whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar divided
- 1/4 cup strong brewed coffee
- 1 tablespoon coffee liqueur
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 8 ounces finely chopped dark chocolate
- 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons room temperature coffee
- 5 teaspoons instant espresso powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 to 3 tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray 3 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottom of the pans with parchment. Spray the parchment paper with cooking spray, then lightly dust with flour. Set pans aside.
Place the almonds and powdered sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until almonds are finely ground. Set aside.
Place the egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer set to high speed until very thick, about 5 minutes. Add the milk, vanilla, and almond extract, and beat on low to combine. Fold in the almond-powdered sugar mixture.
Wash the beaters—if they’re not completely clean your egg whites won’t whip properly. Set the mixer to medium speed and beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together in a large mixing bowl until they form soft peaks. Turn mixer to high and gradually beat in 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar; beat until the whites form stiff peaks. Gently fold half the the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture to lighten, then fold that mixture into the remaining egg whites. Divide batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops with an offset spatula.
Bake cake layers for 12 to 15 minutes, until the tops are light golden brown. Cool in pans set on wire racks for 10 minutes, then gently invert onto the racks to cool completely. (Cake layers will be thin.)
While the cake layers are cooling, combine the coffee and remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Cook until sugar is dissolved and mixture just boils. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the coffee liqueur. Allow to cool completely.
Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan set over medium heat until it begins to steam. Place the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl and pour the hot cream over it. Let sit for 3 minutes, then stir until the mixture is completely smooth. Let cool for 15 minutes—you want the ganache to thicken enough that it doesn’t run, but still be thin enough to spread easily with a spatula.
Beat butter on medium speed until very smooth. Add the coffee, espresso powder, and salt and beat 1 minute more. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then add 4 cups of powdered sugar and mix on low speed until combined. Beat in 1 tablespoon of milk to combine. Turn mixer to medium and beat until very smooth. If frosting is too thick, add additional milk or cream. If it’s too thin add additional powdered sugar.
Set 1 of the cake layers on a cardboard cake circle or cake stand. Brush with 1/3 of the coffee syrup. Spread an even layer of buttercream over the cake, then spread 1/3 of the ganache over the cake—don’t go all the way to the edge with the ganache. Repeat with the second cake layer. Top with the remaining cake layer and brush with the remaining syrup.
Refrigerate cake for about 20 minutes, until the ganache is set and the cake layers don’t jiggle. Frost the entire cake with the buttercream. Chill the cake for at least 1 hour, or until the buttercream is set. Top with the remaining ganache and decorate with any leftover buttercream you have. (If ganache has thickened, heat it briefly in the microwave.) Chill to set the ganache, then slice and serve.
*Separate your eggs while they’re cold, then let them come to room temperature.
When beating your egg whites, be sure they are at room temperature or they will not whip up properly. You’ll also want to be sure to use clean beaters and a clean mixing bowl or, again, they will not whip up properly.
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Baking